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THE YCEO: When I Hired the Wrong Employees, I Took Too Long to Fire Them

Use these three lessons so you don't make the same mistake.

In the startup world, the common advice is "hire slow, fire fast." I've been guilty of hiring fast, firing slow. And I've seen the error of my ways.

A bad hire is usually not the fault of the person who was hired. It is almost always the fault of the hiring manager for one of a few reasons (and sometimes more than one):

The person is underqualified and the hiring manager is not able to recognize it.
The job description does not accurately describe the roles and the person hired is not the right fit for the actual job needs or the company's way of optimally working.
The hiring manager is not clear on the type of person she best works with or the skillsets needed to complement her own strengths and weaknesses.

I've hired someone fairly early on in the interview process many times. I would have been better served to speak with more people, more closely vet people and their working styles, and purposefully elongate the interview cycle to make sure we hired the right person.

In total, I have hired 12 people in my career and been a part of the hiring panel more times than I can count. I have hired some great people, and I have hired some who were not a great fit for the role. And I've fired way too slow.

I've learned three hard lessons along the way.

1. The skills required by the job are table stakes.
If you are hiring someone to fill a role at your company, they must be able to do the work that you hired them to do. I am a proponent of hiring young and smart people who can learn fast, but these people can be your undoing at a small startup that needs to grow quickly. Young and smart people can be diamonds in the rough, but with this comes more mistakes than you should rightly expect within a pivotal role within your company.

If the person does not have all of the required skills you listed in the job description, you need to move on to other candidates. If you need a senior email marketer and you use ExactTarget, don't hire a candidate who only knows ActiveCampaign. This is as serious, in my opinion, as hiring someone without the requisite email marketing skills.

The hard truth I've learned is that with scale comes problems, and a deep knowledge of the tools being used including bugs and capabilities will help you move through those much faster and continue building your company, especially in the early stages.

2. Be patient, but have rules that everyone knows.
I want my company to be a place where people are not afraid to fail. I want people to take big swings and shoot for the 10x changes instead of the 10 percent improvements.

If you operate your company this way, then you know that you must have a high tolerance for pain and unknown.

Not all pain is good pain, however. Our bodies are magical in that they tell us when something is off by letting us feel pain. If you put your hand on a hot burner, your hand will scream out in pain and you will remove your hand from that burner before more damage is done.

Pay attention to the pain and know where your limits are. If you have a salesperson who misses one call with a prospect but gives you a good reason for it, let him fix it and make it right. You can sometimes turn underperforming employees around.

If this employee misses a second or third call for the same reason or for no reasons at all, you have to draw the line. You hired him for a job, and he is not performing. You can always find someone else to fill that role, and your sanity will thank you.

This is a business decision, not a personal decision.

3. Pain does not equal damage.
I hate tough conversations with people I like. I want everyone to be happy. But, sometimes the best thing you can do for people is give them tough feedback that they are not performing up to the needed levels. Notice that I didn't say "not performing up to your expectations," because your expectations of them may be too high.

If an employee is not hitting her numbers or is causing undue drama within your company, you owe it to her to correct her action before it reaches a boiling point within you and causes irreparable damage.

Pain does not equal damage. Pain simply lets you know that if you do not correct action, you may experience harm. If you let the pain continue, it will turn into damage both for the person and your company.

Optimize for a world-class team.
One of the biggest risks to your startup or young company is hiring and keeping around the wrong people. The way you build a company is by building a world-class team around you. Optimize for that and you'll become a better leader and have a better company.


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